One of the obstacles to doing good we frequently hear from you, our community, is not having a mentor; that teacher, guide, coach (sometimes friend) who helps you navigate challenges, introduces you to new people, and continually encourages. In short, a person you can trust and who you know has your back.
Sure, it can be great to have a mentor sometimes. But do you really need one? Here are three people who would argue no:
I have lots of people who I look to for various things. And they’re friends, but actually I think right now I’m getting inspiration from the people I work with, which sounds totally corny but I’m learning everyday. Especially being at a technology not-for-profit that works with young people. My COO pushes me all the time. She is 29, and a foot taller than I am, and bolder and smarter and I learn from her everyday. Everybody, at all levels of the organization, I am learning from them and being kept on my toes and having to keep up. It’s a great feeling.
The truth is, I have never really had the desire to seek out one person to be my sounding board and long-term coach; it’s a lot of work on my end, on their end, and is a little too hierarchical for my taste. Instead, I prefer to connect with people when I have a problem I need help solving.
I do this because I believe that when you start from a place of wanting to solve a problem—instead of wanting to follow a particular person—you open more doors. People younger than you, older than you, people in different fields and professions, people in different communities, become problem solvers. You are also more deliberate and focused about what you need, which makes it much easier for people to actually help you (I am struggling with creating a strategy for X vs. I don’t know what I’m doing about anything).
I meet a lot of young people who waste a lot of time worrying about finding a magical mentor who will help them to greatness. But greatness will only come from within you. Yes, you need to learn from others, but seek wisdom from many.
What do you think? Have you benefited from “the one”? Or are you a believer in spreading the mentoring love?
People first, ideas second. Might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many of us forget this – even in the social good world.
This idea of empathy is the key driver behind design thinking, a creative approach to problem-solving that’s gained buzz in recent years thanks to the mammoth design and innovation consulting firm IDEO.
But it’s not just the territory of big companies. Brooklyn-based The Design Gym is taking design thinking and putting it in the hands of the community. Through facilitation and storytelling workshops, giant hackathons, and their Weekend Workout, (which attempts to solve a problem from a real organization or company) their belief is that anyone can be innovative – if you just exercise that muscle.
“There are lots of organizations that don’t talk to customers. That part of what we’re doing isn’t groundbreaking, it’s just showing them a new approach. You get so stuck in management and growth and systems and all of a sudden you lose touch with those people who can provide you very simple solutions,” co-founder Jason Wisdom says.
Design thinking in action
A typical Weekend Workout works like this: You come in on Friday night for a crash course on design thinking complete with beers and improv exercises. On Saturday, you go through the entire process on a problem that everyone can relate to, like park services or airline issues, using the 5 phases: learning from all the people who touch this problem in someway, making sense of what you learned, generating solutions from those learnings, experimenting or testing those solutions (many failing), and telling the story of what you learned. When Sunday comes around, you’re challenged to use that process again on a real client.
Kelly presenting the user journey her team created for miLES.
With miLES, for example, students were asked to find a way for artists, teachers, and more to utilize the 220+ vacant storefronts in the Lower East Side, and also keep the landlords who wanted to rent them to higher paying customers (i.e. bar and restaurant owners) happy. They came up with pop up shops. And not only that, but a central hub of carts where people could find signage, seats, tables, and more so they could set up and take down their store with ease.
A few of the clients from the Weekend Workout, such as Makeshift and Holstee, took on students after it was over to help put their ideas in action. That’s one of the big goals of Design Gym: develop relationships with companies and organizations so the students can gain both experience and exposure.
“They’ve been our biggest evangelists in terms of helping us find new opportunities, “ Jason says. “And we support them getting jobs or consulting gigs, or give personal coaching around their careers. As long as people know you’re absolutely committed to their success, they’ll bend over backwards to help you as well.”
Tips for replicating the idea
Jason and his team would love to first get The Design Gym firmly planted in NYC, then expand to other places.
But if the idea of a Weekend Workout makes you want to immediately start to do the heavy (or light) lifting of bringing one where you live, here are his tips on how to make it successful:
1. Find a point of focus.
Sit with the organization or company beforehand and tease out the problem. “We want the problem to be big enough to satisfy the organization and do something significant, but small enough that it can be implemented,” he says. Things like, “What’s the future of our organization look like?” is way too wide for a short timeframe, narrow down those problems or opportunities.
2. Tap into different communities and locations.
Bounce around to different spaces. Or if you can’t do that, partner with a space that can bring in diverse clients. Design Gym frequently hosts their classes at the Brooklyn Brainery, an eclectic, community-driven education space where you can find classes on everything from how to run a marathon to making marbled papers to being a connector.
“One of our primary drivers is to continually enforce that diverse community. Because the solutions are so much more interesting due to the communities diverse backgrounds and it’s fun to connect with people who would never get to be around each other otherwise,” Jason says.
3. Make everything in the space fair game.
A team, client (Holstee) and community celebrating after a fun-filled and exhausting weekend.
During the prototyping phase, when students are experimenting with ideas to see if they’ll work, encourage them to use whatever is front of them. At the Brainery, students will often use stuff from the classrooms: frying pans, duct tape, 2×4’s, etc. “The more props you can show us, the better off it is. We’ve had students present back in haikus and built structures, also some teams presented through brilliant songs,” Jason says.
4. Embrace your students’ inner geek
Anyone can attend the Weekend Workout and everyone who does is there for one reason: to learn new things. While most students tend to be in their late 20’s to early 40’s, their backgrounds run the gamut from novelists to 5th grade science teachers to product leads at Google.
“With the problems we’re working on being so diverse, people start to feel this applies to them, whether they’re in healthcare or a tech startup or construction,” Jason says. “What they have in common is that they’re geeky people.”
5. Don’t be a helicopter instructor.
The less you do, the better off your students are. “We found if do a really good job at the explanation and creating structure, and leave them alone, the better off they are,” Jason says. “Allowing them to go through and fail a little bit and do things wrong and learn from that is an important part of the process. And it takes us standing back a little bit for that to be able to happen.”
Another tip: Don’t try to force groups based on personalities you think might work well together. Whether you group people together or randomize it, the results ware usually the same.
6. Show your appreciation.
“Everybody has busy lives in this city. So we want to thank people for deciding that out of all the places they could possibly be, they’re spending time with us,” says Jason. They’ve shown their gratitude by giving students a bag with a Moleskine notebook, bottle of wine, and handwritten thank you card.
Design Gym just launched a train-the-trainer program, where they have students come back from previous weekends and learn the skills necessary to become a really strong facilitator. Finding them long-term engagements with organizations or companies is another priority, and they’re toying with creating a consulting firm run by students.
8. Create continual opportunities for community.
They’ve hosted happy hours, rotating potlucks, and more. “Our big epiphany was our first happy hour. We had 23 students in the class, and 21 came out to happy hour and said they wanted to continue to be involved in whatever it is we’re doing,” Jason says. “That to me was such validation we’re doing something right. And in the end, they become close friends.”
Are you an organization in the NYC area that could use some creative problem-solving at a Weekend Workout? Or want to implement a similar project where you live? Get in touch with Jason: email@example.com.
If you’re in the NYC area and want to participate, the next Weekend Workout will be May 31-June 2.
Want to learn how to make websites, apps, and more but don’t know where to start? Code Scouts in Portland, Oregon can help. This post originally appeared on good.is, a global community of people who give a damn.
Founder Michelle Rowley and Kevin Turner, who recently joined Code Scouts full-time as their Chief Technology Officer. (Photo by Jason Grilicky.)
At the kickoff event for Code Scouts—a nonprofit providing support and resources to women learning to code—founder Michelle Rowley stands in front of a room of almost all women, welcoming both new and familiar faces in the Portland, Oregon tech community.
She confesses how, at first, she didn’t feel smart or empowered enough to become a software developer. And how it wasn’t until her developer ex-husband said he’d help her learn that she traded her geography and French degrees for hacking.
To get to this point—being one of the 18 percent of developers today that are women—Michelle had a few things in her favor: a father who didn’t think twice about teaching her computer skills when she asked him growing up, a partner who believed in her, and friends in the scene who encouraged her to attend conferences and meetups.
She had hands helping her; now she wants to do the same.
“I want to take the experience and privilege I’ve had and give it to people who haven’t. Just for fun,” she says. “And I think it would change things.”
It’s no secret that knowing how to code comes with all sorts of benefits: good pay, flexible hours, and esteem in the eyes of colleagues and peers. But it’s also an industry known for its competitiveness, locker room atmosphere, and lack of diversity.
That’s where Code Scouts comes in. Michelle, who has been helping lead the Portland Python User Group since 2008, came up with the idea last year as a way to bridge the gap between the people creating the internet (mostly men) and the people using it (mostly women). By creating a safe space for learners to play around with 1’s and 0’s, and, more importantly, be okay with messing up, Michelle hopes to spread the coding love, and wealth, to new faces.
“Code Scouts exists to pull more people out of the woodwork who are thinking about doing it but are scared to even approach the situation,” she says. ” It can be a scary jungle. We’re guides in Code Scouts. We’ll go in that jungle with you.”
Women have come to the monthly event with varying skill levels and backgrounds. Marta McCasland, for one, has been learning coding on and off on her own for the past year. She works as a loan processor at a credit union, and hopes the skills she’s learning at Code Scouts will help her better serve her customers. She also wants to develop a geolocation-based apartment finder app in her spare time.
To do this, her Code Scouts guide will lead her down a path of available resources like Treehouse and Codeacademy. Over the course of the afternoon they’ll work together to find the right starting point, form learning circles with others at her level, and hopefully, make long-lasting connections.
“It feels like I’m surrounded by people who might actually have the same questions I have, whereas in other groups it feels like, ‘Should I ask this? Is everyone going to be like, Why are you asking that?”” Marta says.
While the nonprofit’s formal mission is to get more women in the tech industry, Michelle is also addressing a deeper issue: newbie shaming. Cliques are common, and more often than not, she says, expertise becomes the marker of whether you’re in or out. “Dumb” questions are usually cause for ridicule.
It can be uninviting for outsiders. And not just women.
“Guys are coming out to me and saying they don’t feel welcome in that scene either,” she says.
Michelle allows some men to participate in Code Scouts, and there are some male mentors. The values listed in the code of conduct—respect, kindness, generosity, growth, community—make it clear that no jerks are allowed.
At the start of the event, Michelle makes it a habit to encourage everyone to embrace the mistakes they’re bound to make in the next four hours—as well as in the rest of their coding lives.
“Be willing to do it wrong a thousand times,” she says. “This is the space to be wrong and still feel good about it.”
Starting with San Francisco, Michelle’s ultimate goal is to have Code Scouts chapters in many, many other places. To learn more or get involved, follow them on Twitter or get in touch with Michelle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At NYC’s Lab School for Collaborative Studies, you‘ll find tables for group work, encouraging notes on lockers, and students openly admitting their dreams, failures, and what makes them unique. Here’s how the high school is celebrating vulnerability in their hallways and beyond—and combating bullying while they’re at it.
Senior Lena Jacobs owns that she can ride a unicycle. After years of trying to hide his disability, her classmate Bryan Stromer owns that he has cerebral palsy. Tim Shriver, the school’s in-house Dream Director whose job it is to challenge and support students in putting their dreams into action, owns that he has his heads in the clouds.
In February this year, the three of them helped kick off “Own It,” a campaign at Lab to encourage students and staff to embrace individuality and end bullying. Walk down the school’s hallways and at every turn you’ll find questions on the wall such as: What makes you weird? What’s your wildest dream? What’s your greatest failure? What makes you you?
“Have you ever been in a classroom and the teachers would ask you what animal you’d be and why? You’d always hear people say a lion, tiger, or some other really strong animal. I remember I once heard this girl say she’d be a pig because she could roll around in the mud and and not care what people think of her. That’s such a positive thing; why can’t we all do this?” Bryan says. “ ‘Own It’ is a nicer way of saying be a pig.”
How it came together
At the end of the fall, the idea for “Own It” starting taking shape. With Lab being a relatively quirky school (students are asked on a daily basis to plot their feelings on a mood meter, for example), Tim would talk with students and Future Project Fellows about how to create a shared identity. At the same time, Bryan and Lena started thinking about how it could tie in with their work with the Stand Up to Bullying club, which Bryan co-founded three years ago.
“We knew we had an idea, and everyone was excited about it, but we weren’t sure how we were going to engage people around why this actually matters,” Tim says.
So they got to work and within a few months had planned a high energy, interactive campaign launch event for February. There were poets and emcees, videos, music, and art —and lots of momentum that continued after it ended.
“People say ‘own it’ now like it’s part of their vocabulary,” Bryan says. If you get something wrong in math class, instead of everyone laughing, people will say, ‘Own it!’ It’s a nice way to embrace mistakes and embarrassment.”
Tips for replicating the idea
A big part of “Own It” is spreading the idea to not only other NYC schools—three recently met with the Chancellor of NYC’s Department of Education—but beyond.
Whether you’re from a suburban or urban area, or attend a large or small school, here are their tips on how to make it happen where you live:
1. Keep it real with student leadership.
While it’s definitely a bonus to have Tim providing guidance, ultimately the campaign is student-created and student-led.
“At end of the day, it’s not a club. It’s something that exists within the entire school and affects everyone. It raises the spirits of the entire population,” Lena says. “We want it to stay in the student vibe.”
2. Grow a support network.
Aside from having a staff member they could trust, engaging other students kept them from getting stuck.
“You’re your own worst enemy. If you don’t have someone to keep pushing you to move forward, then sometimes you can end up holding yourself back,” Bryan says. “There are probably 20 of us who are equally invested in this idea and concept. If any of us are having doubts, we look to the support of peers.”
3. Create a catchy brand.
“Own it” is just a fun thing to say. And to create even more excitement, they pasted black and white flyers of the questions all over the hallways to create a buzz before the launch, keeping an element of surprise.
3. Toss out the notion of a standard school assembly.
Instead of an assembly, they called it a campaign launch and made it engaging from every angle. They showed a video Lena made of the teachers disclosing little-known facts about themselves. Poets read in the aisles. The audience participated talk show-style, complete with shouts and claps. Macklemore’s “Same Love” provided the soundtrack.
4. Create continual opportunities for people to own it.
At the launch, students were asked to sign a pledge. The pledge is now up in the hallways, along with index cards they filled out during the event of what they owned: fear of being locked in a coffin, love of Bugs Bunny, and dreams of traveling the world, among others. They even update their Instagram account daily.
“That’s been really cool because people have started following Instagram, and they look forward to it. I’ve been asked by a couple of people who are not directly involved with ‘Own It’ if they can be on it,” Lena says. “Even if we’re touching only one or two other people, it’s an impact we’re making and it’s exciting.”
5. Own your commitment to it.
The campaign had a rocky beginning at first, as people didn’t understand what the group was trying to do. But they persisted.
“Keep going forward and making progress no matter how small it is. It might seem really challenging to start, but once you figure out the idea, keep moving,” Bryan says.
Lena and Bryan may be heading off to college next year, but the hope is that “Own It” will live on. For them, being part of the campaign has helped them strengthen their friendship and connect with others they might not have ever known they had something in common with. For Tim, it’s confirmed something he’s had a suspicion about all along.
“The people who can say where they are most vulnerable are the ones who rock this world. If you look at history, you see it. You look at this school, you see it,” he says. “This is the opportunity we have. Not only to say you can stop bullying, but this is the way to make you the most powerful person you can possibly be.”
Want to keep up to date with the campaign? Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Inspired to bring “Own It” to your school? Email email@example.com.
Have to thank that person for donating? And plan that event? And all of the million other things you need to do? Forget thinking of your day as a long 24 hour stretch; try instead treating it as a series of 15 minute blocks to make your to-do list more flexible.
Have your own tips on getting things done? Let us know in the comments.
Fear of doing harm. Fear of rejection. Fear of being seen as wrong or crazy. Fear of failure. Fear of success.
These are just some of the fears that have prevented people in the Idealist community from acting on their intentions. But it doesn’t always have to be an obstacle. If wielded correctly, fear can propel us to do amazing things.
In this TED talk, author Karen Thompson Walker encourages us to see fear not as a weakness or danger, but something that fuels our imaginations.
“Fear is… a kind of unintentional storytelling we’ll all born knowing how to do,“ she says. By thinking of fear as part of the narrative of our lives, we are better able to imagine our future and take the necessary steps toward action.
We’d love to know: How how have you turned fear on its head to help you in your journey to better your community?
A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.
Olivia Pedrick’s kitchen table is splattered with paint of every hue.
Every weekend, the 12-year-old sits down at her table in Ashland, New York and paints pictures of animals for family, friends, and random strangers.
“I really do like turtles and dogs. Turtles are a lot of fun to paint because you can add so many different kind of greens,” she says. “I like painting dogs because of the shading.”
Olivia with some recent paintings. Her favorite one of all time is one of her and her dog Miller, which was a Christmas gift for her parents. (Photo via Anabel Lago-Pedrick.)
Customers pay her $10 per painting, or more if they’d like, and the money goes to an animal charity of her choice. Right now, Olivia’s waiting list is three months long.
Olivia, who’s been painting since she was four years old, thought of the idea after seeing a woman from a local wildlife rehab center speak as part of the Kindness and Caring club at school. She loves art as much as she loves animals, especially dogs, and brainstormed with her mom Anabel ways she could help out.
She started by selling paintings at a local town event. In one afternoon she sold them all, and her mom set up a Facebook page shortly after.
Anabel takes care of the logistics – managing everything from her web presence to choice of charities – to give Olivia freedom to paint.
Still, finding the time can be a challenge for Olivia, who is also involved in Girl Scouts, karate, skiing and more in addition to having heaps of homework to do. School vacations and summers are when she gets the most amount of painting done.
“It’s a lot of work. But it’s totally worth it,” Olivia says.
Since she started two years ago, Olivia has made 70 paintings and donated over $6,000 to charities. She’s also inspired a girl in the Netherlands to undertake a similar project, and a few friends from school have said they’ve wanted to do it, too.
As to how long Olivia will continue to paint to help animals, she doesn’t even need to think twice about the answer.
“My whole life,” she says. “Definitely.”
Want to use your creative skills for good or know a youth in your life who does? Feel free to contact Anabel Lago-Pedrick, Olivia’s mom, for tips and advice on how to get a project like Olivia’s Art for Animals going.
Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We know people mostly use our site to find nonprofit jobs. But did you know you could do so much more, like ask each other questions and maybe even find love? Here’s how one person used Idealist to connect with nonprofits who share the same vision.
Aleyda K. Meija had one million dollars to give away.
As Director for the first Caplow Children’s Prize, she was charged with finding people and organizations around the world working to prevent mortality for children under the age of five. She had no other constraints other than the issue of focus.
(Photo via Images_of_Money on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)
So she turned to the Idealist community for help. After doing a keyword search, she found several organizations that fit what she was looking for.
“If you know what you want, the search is really powerful,” Aleyda says. “On the one hand, the Children’s Prize is offering something – one million dollars. On the other, there are people and organizations out there that are offering what we’re seeking, which are solutions to reduce child mortality around the world. It’s reciprocal, but to make the connection is critical.”
The organizations she contacted through Idealist responded in less than two days after she sent them a message, exceeding even Aleyda’s expectations.
“I was just curious. I didn’t think anything would come of it,” she says. “But I’ve talked to representatives of these organizations several times now. I’ve had these powerful conversations to the point where we decided to host a Google Hangout, and include a panel of these representatives in child health where they’re discussing the issues and aspects that are unique to their own organization.”
“In addition to saving children’s lives, the Children’s Prize is also about making these more direct and empowering connections between a donor and potential recipients,” she says. “To impact social change across great distances, the collaborative process is to a large extent technologically dependent these days.”
__ Want to connect with others on our site but are a little unsure? Feel free to reach out to Aleyda for tips on messaging, organizing Google hangouts, and more.
Used our site for more than finding a nonprofit job? Let celeste know: email@example.com.
You want to make the world a better place. But you don’t know where to start. Or how to keep going.
Photo via katerha on Flickr’s Creative Commons.
Sound familiar? Over the past year, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people like you who’ve had ideas to better your community, whether it be starting your own project or getting involved with one that already exists. Some of you made your ideas happen. Others are still thinking about it.
It’s normal to feel stuck. Maybe you don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of. Or you’re afraid of failing. Sometimes, if you’re really honest with yourself, you start to question the point of it all.
If you’re nodding your head, then the content we write here will be for you.
While our friends over at idealistcareers.org will be helping you further your social impact career, we’ll be covering the small and big ways people are facing obstacles, and turning their good intentions into action.
Over the past few months, you’ve helped members of the Idealist community take one more step forward on their idea. (Go ahead. High five yourself in the mirror for a moment.)
Act on your idea before the light burns out. (Photo via Spigoo on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)
Offered Lisa your expertise on how to best connect job seekers looking for a new career, and encouraged her to take advantage of what’s already out there.
Helped Alex further refine his idea to institute a progressive income tax in Oregon.
Reached out to Everita in support of artists and learned more about what’s going on in the post-Soviet region.
We know there are more world-changing ideas out there hiding in notebooks, scribbled on napkins, and retreating in heads.
No matter what stage you’re at in your process, we’d love to hear from you.
Individuals: Whether you want to start something of your own, volunteer with an existing organization, or simply want to be a better neighbor, let us know what challenges you’re facing and advice you’d need.
Organizations: Looking for knowledge on how to implement a new program, campaign, initiative, etc. or want to improve an existing one? Facing an institutional roadblock you’re sure another organization somewhere has experienced? Tell us about it.
Sometimes saying it aloud is all you need to do to get the momentum going. We promise we won’t bite.
Don’t waste another minute. Send your awesome ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.